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Jury convicts man in third trial in 1981 Newport Beach strangling

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James Andrew Melton, shown in an undated booking photo, was found guilty Monday of killing a Newport Beach man in 1981.
(File photo)

A man whose conviction in the 1981 strangling of a Newport Beach retiree was once overturned by a federal judge was again found guilty of the killing Monday.

An Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated for about two days before finding James Andrew Melton, 65, of Los Angeles guilty of first-degree murder for seducing and strangling Anthony DeSousa, 77, in what prosecutors contended was a plot to steal from him.

Melton originally was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 in DeSousa’s slaying.

But a federal judge overturned that conviction in 2007 after determining that jail staff overmedicated Melton to the point that he was unable to participate in his defense or understand his trial.

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After a new trial was ordered, the Orange County district attorney’s office decided not to seek the death penalty. Melton now faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In the 2014 retrial, a jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting Melton of murder. Jurors in that trial did not hear testimony from Melton’s former lover Johnny Boyd, to whom prosecutors claimed Melton confessed shortly after DeSousa’s death.

In his third trial, which began May 1 in Orange County Superior Court, the prosecution alleged that Melton and Boyd, while serving prison sentences in San Luis Obispo in 1980, concocted a plan to make money by robbing older gay men whom they would find through newspaper ads.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Stephen McGreevy said Boyd, who was released from prison before Melton, met DeSousa through a personal ad.

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DeSousa, who had come out as gay after his wife died, told Boyd that he liked black men, and Boyd offered to set him up with a man he said was his cousin. Authorities say that man was Melton.

Boyd was arrested in an unrelated case a few days before the three men were to rendezvous. According to the prosecution, Melton decided to meet DeSousa alone on Oct. 10, 1981, at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

That day, McGreevy contended, Melton strangled DeSousa and made off with his car and other valuables.

Three days later, DeSousa’s body was found in his bedroom. He had been badly beaten and strangled with the cord of an electric mirror, authorities said.

Melton’s defense attorney, Denise Gragg, contended during the trial that the prosecution presented an overly simplistic view of the case.

There were no fingerprints or DNA evidence at DeSousa’s home linking Melton to the crime, Gragg said. She said Boyd, a key prosecution witness who was given immunity to testify in Melton’s first trial, had credibility issues.

Boyd died of complications of AIDS in 1992, so in the current trial the jury was read transcripts of his testimony.

Gragg’s statements to the jury portrayed Boyd as a man deeply in love with Melton who became infuriated when Melton didn’t want to be with him after they were released from prison.

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The defense alleged that Boyd’s anger gave him a motive to set up Melton to take the fall for a crime he didn’t commit. The real killer has never been found, Gragg told jurors.

McGreevy rejected that idea, noting that Melton and Boyd went out together in Los Angeles a week before DeSousa was killed. There’s no evidence the two were on bad terms, he said.

Melton is expected to be sentenced July 14.

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN


UPDATES:

4:55 p.m. May 23: This article was updated with the expected sentencing date.

This article was originally published at 5:35 p.m. May 22.

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